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NHS reforms welcomed - but need to go further, faster

MAJOR reforms to the NHS workforce announced by the Government have been welcomed by IPEM – but they need to go further to address urgent workforce shortages.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid has set out plans to put recruitment, training and retention of staff, together with digital transformation, at the heart of the NHS.

The plans will also see the merger of Health Education England, together with NHSX and NHS Digital, into NHS England and Improvement. It is hoped this will put the long-term planning and strategy for healthcare staff recruitment and retention at the forefront of the NHS.

At the same time, an amendment has been put forward to the Health and Care Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, to require the Government to publish independently verified assessments of the current health, social care and public health workforce every two years.

Jeremy Hunt, who is the Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, has tabled the amendment to the Bill, which also calls for independently verified future assessment of workforce needs for the following five, ten and twenty years in line with the projected health and care needs of the population.

Data from IPEM’s Workforce Intelligence Unit shows that across all specialisms within the medical physics and clinical engineering workforce there is a vacancy rate of between 9% and 11% - and that this has been the case for almost a decade.

IPEM Vice-President for Medical Physics, Matt Dunn, said: 'While we welcome the announcement to put recruitment, training and retention of NHS staff at the heart of the NHS in England, what we are most keen to see is real, reported workforce shortages treated as the critical strategic issue they are, and action taken to address them urgently. For example, in the Diagnostic Radiology and Radiation Protection specialism we know we currently have 330 qualified clinical scientists. The workforce needed to meet current staffing shortages and the planned growth from the expansion of imaging services recommended by the Richards Review means we are 450 below requirements. With only 15-20 scientists and even fewer technologists coming through training annually there needs to be a drastic change to training provision to ensure patients can safely benefit from NHS plans for expansion of diagnostic services.

‘Our members are vital to providing a modern healthcare service to patients, working together alongside doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals.

‘I hope the reforms that have been outlined will bring a real focus to addressing the urgent workforce shortages we face in medical physics and clinical engineering today, with a strategic approach to increasing training provision and maximising retention in anticipation of our future needs.’

Mr Dunn also welcomed the move to put digital transformation at the heart of the NHS:

‘The digital and computing skills found within the medical physics and clinical engineering workforce – including very highly trained physicists, bioinformaticians, clinical computer scientists and others – are extensive and need to be recognised and fully accounted for in planning the future workforce. These healthcare science professionals are often uniquely placed with clinical and computing expertise; understanding the hardware, software and patient need, and need to be included amongst the ‘digital champions’ the newly configured service will need to succeed.’

Dr Anna Barnes, IPEM's Vice-President, Academic, agreed, saying:

'Currently NHSX are funding several large university and industry partnerships specifically around the use of artificial intelligence in the NHS through the AAC/NHSX AI-awards. To truly place digital transformation at the heart of the NHSE&I we would like to encourage this essential investment to be continued long after the merger. This way we can provide digital training to all staff around cutting edge technologies essential for 21st century medicine.'

Government reforms to NHS workforce planning and digital
Diagnostics recovery and renewal NHS England report